I’m delighted to introduce today’s fabulous author, Henrietta Mackenzie. We chat about her debut children’s book, finding strength and inspiration to write following her daughters rare diagnosis, loving dragons and mermaids (who doesn’t!), and being an eco-friendly influencer.
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)
I’m a single mother with a three year old daughter, Penny. We live in Bucks in the UK, where I work part time for a marketing agency in London.
I’m also an eco-friendly influencer and write a blog and run an Instagram account @ecofriendlyhenri focused on sustainable swaps, tips and meet-ups. I love health and fitness, and run and do yoga regularly
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)
Yes this is my first book. ‘The Secret Lives of Two Googly-eyed Cats’ was published by Austin Macauley, and written in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in gratitude for my daughter’s treatment and diagnosis for a rare condition called ‘Segmental Haemangioma.’
What genre is it, and what is it about?
The genre is children’s fiction.
The story follows Milly and Tilly, the googly-eyed cats, who belong to Penny. They sneak out at night, in search of fun and adventure and generally causing mischief such as ransacking bins and scrapping with other cats.
The other character in the story is the big dog from next door, who is based on my neighbour’s Bernese mountain dog.
The book is targeted at 2 – 5 year olds and aims to empower children to be more courageous and creative. It also helps teach them kindness.
What or who inspired you to write this book?
My daughter Penny is my inspiration. When she was just six weeks old, she was diagnosed with a rare condition called ‘Segmental Haemangioma,’ a potentially dangerous red swelling condition caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels on her face and around her airways. It appeared when she was one week old. Then after several weeks of doctor appointments we ended up at GOSH where Penny had an MRI scan and endoscopy under general anaesthetic. She was then medicated with beta blockers until she was two years old, to reduce the redness and swelling.
Aside from reducing the haemangioma, the medication had side effects, such as disrupting Penny’s sleep patterns. For two years I spent many a sleepless night up with her telling stories about her googly-eyed cats (toy cats). The stories involved Milly and Tilly going out and causing trouble in the neighbourhood while we were asleep. Not the typical story to soothe your child back to sleep but it seemed to work. Over the two years, I created many different types of adventures for Milly and Tilly.
Writing a book wasn’t something I’d planned to do, it just sort of happened during my maternity leave. As well as making stories up about Milly and Tilly, I was also reading a lot of children’s books to Penny and became immersed in children’s literature. I started to get to know the popular authors, the different writing styles and what types of characters worked well. Then while Penny was napping and my parents were looking after her, I wrote up one of the googly-eyed cat stories.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Here are my top Five Tips for aspiring authors:
- Keep it simple. Over complicated stories or messages are hard to digest. Children need the story to be simple. Also picture books are often as little as 600 words. Which isn’t very long to tell a whole a story.
- If you’re writing in rhyme, think of the story like a song with a beat. This helps keep the rhythm consistent which is important for children’s books. Rhythmic sentences are a powerful tool for helping children learn language and it keeps them engaged. I tap my hand like a drum, as I’m writing and editing my books, to ensure the beat is consistent throughout. This helps me knock out long words that don’t fit and keep the sentences succinct.
- Think about your choice of words, and don’t force rhyming. There’s nothing worse than forced rhyming by inserting words that don’t fit with the narrative. This bit can take a long time to get right. Websites like Rhyme zone are helpful to find different rhyming words.
- It’s sometimes helpful to draw upon real life experiences to choose your characters. Think about your childhood, what inspired you? Scared you? You can layer your imagination over real life experiences. For me. I am constantly noting down character ideas, for books from my daughter Penny’s childhood experiences. She’s always muttering about cats, mermaids, monsters you name it. These could form the basis for a book idea.
- Allow loads of reflection time: Once you’ve written a first draft, allow time to come back later and edit and polish it. This will give you a chance to come back with a fresh perspective, and I think is the best way of producing a really polished piece of content.Rarely can someone sit down and write an outstanding book in one go.
What do you enjoy most about writing and why?
I’m a child at heart with a childish sense of humour, so I love losing myself into fantasy worlds about cats, mermaids, dragons etc. Writing stories that are funny, cheeky, entertaining but also portray a clear and educational message to children. Such as kindness.
Separate from writing, I’m also a very eco conscious person. My ambition is to include my passion for environmental protection into my future children’s books. Teaching our future generations about the importance of protecting our environment and adopting a sustainable lifestyle is so important to safeguard the planet for their generation and beyond.
List three interesting facts about yourself
- I’m an eco-friendly influencer. I write an eco-lifestyle blog Eco Friendly Henri and run an eco-friendly Instagram account. Every Saturday I run an Instagram meet-up called ‘Sustainable Saturday Meet-up’ where over 200 eco influencers / brands / scientists/ journalists meet on my post to share stories, ideas and grow their accounts.
- I’ve just partnered with a few other eco influencers to launch a sustainable debate series on Clubhouse – the new social media platform currently in beta phase and available on iPhone.
- When I was a student, I appeared on the 90s cooking programme ‘Can’t cook, won’t cook’ and lost! Since then I’ve learnt to cook, but I prefer eating!
What is your least favourite part of the publishing/writing process?
I work part time for a marketing agency and I have spent years working for PR agencies. I’m used to tight deadlines and quick turn-around times for corporate clients. The pace is different in publishing, I’m still getting used to it.
I also find the promotional side a bit daunting. It’s handy being skilled at media relations and marketing, so I’ve run my own PR campaign to some success so far and recently did live interviews on BBC Radio Berkshire and Three Countries Radio as well as other regional and local media. In addition, I’ve had success with mummy and author bloggers and Instagram influencers. I’m also about to embark on a Facebook Advertising campaign. But I’m still learning so it feels quite experimental. I’ve not had any sales figures yet, so no sure what’s having an impact.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
I also love hearing feedback about what children loved about the book. This helps me decide what to include in future books.
What is your next project?
I have just written a sequel about the Googly-eyed Cats which has been sent to my publisher for consideration. I’ve included an underlying kindness and environmental message in this book. So watch this space…
Milly and Tilly are googly-eyed cats who belong to a cheeky little baby called Penny. During the day, they sit on her mat playing games and acting like normal toys. During the night when Penny is asleep, they creep out the back door in search of fun and adventure, ransacking bins, scrapping with other cats and generally causing mischief. At the end of the night, they sneak back inside and wipe their paws clean so Penny doesn’t know that they’ve been out all night. However, one day in winter, heavy snows falls. The cats decide to be brave and sneak out. But the snow is too deep for their little paws and they get stuck. What will they do? How will they escape?
Henrietta Mackenzie is a new author. Inspired by reading to her daughter, Penny, and creating stories about her two googly-eyed toy cats, she wrote her first picture book to bring her stories to life. At one-week-old, Penny developed a potentially dangerous condition on her face and around her airways, called segmental haemangioma. This is an overgrowth of blood vessels that form a red mark and swelling. After two weeks of doctor’s appointments, she was eventually diagnosed and is being treated by Great Ormond Street Hospital.
In gratitude for Penny’s diagnosis and treatment, Henrietta has written this book in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Link to buy the book: Amazon here
Henrietta Mackenzie is also a proud member of the The Sue Atkins Book Club